When Stuart Reichman, a chef from Teaneck, N.J., was forced out of his job at a large kosher processing plant due to downsizing last year, he put what he had learned there to good use.
“I had never worked in a factory before,” said Reichman, 44. “It was a very different kind of work, and I learned about production, quality control and the creativity of making a new product. I also came across ingredients that in all my years of cooking I had never come across.”
After reading an article in a trade magazine about growth in the soup industry, Reichman went back to work — in his own kitchen. He’s spent the past few months perfecting and test marketing his black bean, butternut, jalapeño and other recipes for Slurping Good Soups.
With the economy forcing more people to find unconventional jobs, putting more retirees back to work and sending at-home mothers in search of a second income, the demand for home-based jobs has never been greater.
The ability to set your own hours and directly reap the rewards of hard work has even lured people away from stable jobs.
Like Reichman, Rebecca Weiss-Sigman tapped into her own experience when she gave up a top job with New York’s Administration for Children’s Services to stay at home with her four small children.
But the experience she found useful was personal, not professional. Living in a cramped apartment in Riverdale a few years ago, she and her husband, Eric Sigman, searched online for resources to help them identify a suitable Jewish community where they could buy a house. The pickings were scarce.
So the Sigmans started StopWandering.Com, a site that lists homes in Jewish communities on behalf of brokers. They’re now looking for commission-based salespeople, with exclusive rights to their territory to pitch the brokers. “I don’t want people stepping on each other’s toes,” says Eric Sigman, who teaches math at a public school in Stamford, Conn., where the family now lives. He works on the site part time.
Weiss says she spends between one hour and five hours a day updating listings, juggling the workload with caring for four children under 5 years old.
“That’s why staying at home working out of the house was beneficial to our family,” says Weiss-Sigman. They welcome inquiries via the site from prospective representatives, particularly hoping for retired sales veterans. “I would love to tap into their experience,” said Weiss-Sigman.
But for those without the resources for a startup, finding the right opportunity can be a full-time job in itself.
Numerous outfits make promises that seem too good to be true, and generally are. Many of them make more profit from gullible job seekers — who pay up-front for products, membership or training materials — than from merchandise.
“You have to be extremely careful,” says Sruli Rosner, director of the Orthodox Union’s busy Job Board. “Most of these jobs are complete and absolute scams.”
Rosner won’t post any offering on his Web site that requires an up-front payment, but lacks the resources to screen others that seem legitimate.
“There are such jobs that are legitimate but they are not so easy to come by, or readily available,” says Rosner. “Sometimes we have to throw caution to the wind and post them with a warning [to the job-seeker] to make sure you vet the company carefully.”
While still far less than demand, the supply of home jobs is on the rise, says Rosner.
“We just signed a contract with an agency in Israel that provides secretarial and administrative jobs at home and has 40 to 50 positions,” he says. They will go to English-speaking immigrants in Israel, says Rosner, who declined to name the company because it does not want to be contacted directly.
The most common work-at-home opportunities are multilevel marketing companies, such as Avon, Amway and Tupperware, which rely on a legal pyramid scheme in which newcomers, known as “downlines,” generate income for established salespeople.
But they generally require a substantial investment in membership fees, starter kits, training materials and/or merchandise.
“I have done Creative Memories, Shaklee and Discovery Toys, but only because I like their products and use them a lot,” says Renee Iseson a stay-at-home mom in West Hempstead, L.I.. “So the discounts are worth it. But basically you always spend more than you make.”
One of the most promising opportunities for commission-based sales today, says Rosner, is the emerging “green” home-improvement field, selling products such as solar heating units and insulation. “This has become a very big industry now as a result of government grants,” he says. Average commissions, he says, are about 10 percent on sales of between $5,000 and $10,000.
There are also a growing number of kosher food distributors seeking salespeople.
“This is a very interesting field, and it doesn’t cost anything up front” to the salesperson, says Rosner, noting that while most sales jobs are based only on commission, new hires can often negotiate to draw a regular paycheck based on projections.
“They will pay you ‘X’ per week as if you are getting a salary, based on future commissions,” says Rosner. “A majority of companies will give you some sort of draw.”
E-commerce, selling products or services online via affiliate programs with major retailers, is also increasingly popular, says Rosner, but also carries the risk of exploitation.
“You have to make sure these companies are legitimate, and also, normally speaking, it can take between three and six months to generate any income. But once you do, it can be substantial.”
Rosner recommends such jobs for people without dependents who can afford to be patient.
For those who take chances with their own businesses, patience is also the key, but results may come faster.
The Sigmans estimate that StopWandering.com attracts about 50,000 visits a month, and has three salespeople, although in just over a year hasn’t reached what they hope is its profit potential.
Reichman, the soup man, has found some financial backers, started a Web site, is seeking kosher supervision and hopes to have five product lines on store shelves this fall.
“I like the idea of being my own boss,” he says. “I like the idea that when something goes wrong it’s on me and not someone else, and when something goes right it’s because I did it.”